EXPEDITE EXECUTION because, in our warp-speed world, LAGGARDS LOSE. The more time you take to execute, the lower your probability of success.
Whether you are a seasoned leader at the top or an emerging leader on the way up, executing effectively is paramount. If you have concerns in this area, you’re not alone. Execution is the challenge most commonly cited by leaders today—regardless of the size of company or type of industry. In fact, CEOs from 40 countries have rated Excellence in Execution as their #1 concern.
While many factors affect your capacity to execute effectively, the most significant is TIME COMPRESSION.
TIME COMPRESSION: Why Rapid Execution Is Essential
Think about your organization. How fast do you need to execute? The answer is simple: faster than the rate of change. As Jack Welch, former chairman of GE, observed, “If the rate of change inside an organization is less than the rate of change outside, the end is in sight.”
Our former client, Motorola, had a practical way to measure the external versus internal rates of change. To determine the external rate of change, they had four indicators: the speed of competitor moves, the change in consumer demand, the change in customer needs and changes in technology. They measured the internal rate of change by looking at leadership capability, strategic response time and organizational readiness to adapt.
The Bar for Execution Excellence
Time Compression raises the bar for Execution leadership. You not only need to achieve better Execution results than in the past. You need to achieve them at a much faster pace. That is why Execution Excellence has been rated the #1 concern of CEOs worldwide.
How are we doing? In one global survey, 90% of leaders agreed that speed is critical to their success, but only 40% said that they were moving fast enough.
What is the economic impact of not moving fast enough? The slower organizations saw their faster competitors outpace them in the market and deliver, on average, 40% higher sales growth and 52% higher operating profit.
MINDSETS to Expedite Execution
There are three mindsets that will help you Expedite Execution. They were at the heart of the Desert Storm air campaign, one of the most successful in military history. While writing Winning In FastTime® with Colonel John Warden, the architect of the air campaign, I asked him a seminal question, “What were the mindsets in Desert Storm?”
John paused for a moment and then crisply replied, “Think Strategically, Focus Sharply, Move Quickly.”
This sums up in six words the mindsets needed to Expedite Execution. Top leaders in many well-known, forward-leaning organizations have used them as their Action Architecture for winning in the New Normal.
They work because they foster faster, better results in the three interdependent phases of Execution: strategic thinking, action planning, and intense implementation.
In the years following the book’s publication, I’ve delivered many Winning In FastTime® keynotes and executive briefings. “Think Strategically, Focus Sharply, Move Quickly” has always resonated with leaders.
THINK STRATEGICALLY to Expedite Execution.
Leaders who Expedite Execution have one thing in common—clarity about their strategic challenges and opportunities and what to do about them.
That was the case with our client Texas Instruments (TI). For over ten years, during a period when many of its competitors, including Intel and Motorola, were experiencing major growth in their market value, TI’s market value was flat.
The problem was not their tactical capabilities. During this period they had won The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for Performance Excellence.
What they needed was smart strategic thinking. So they shaped a new vision and Grand Strategy by tapping the Collective Intelligence of over two hundred leaders from around the world. Big decisions were made and executed aggressively.
For example, they decided to sharpen their target market. Instead of continuing to fight competitors for a share of the memory chip market, TI targeted the explosive market for digital signal processors—DSPs. And, most importantly, they aimed to dominate the DSP market.
They also made tough decisions. In order to pump more resources into their DSP initiative, they shed their huge defense unit, a long-time sacred cow.
The new mindset was exemplified by the CEO in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. He declared, “This isn’t a market we want to play in; the DSP market is where we intend to win.”
TI did win and win big. It’s market value increased six-fold over the next three years.
FOCUS SHARPLY to Expedite Execution.
What slows down Execution? A core culprit is system inertia.
Think about your organization, your department and your market. They are all systems that exhibit inertia—resistance to any change in their current state. Overcoming this inertia is difficult because systems are like multi-headed hydras—webs of interacting, interdependent components all conspiring to sustain the status quo. That is why, whenever you introduce something new, you encounter strong resistance that slows or stops progress.
How do you overcome system inertia? Disrupt it by focusing sharply on Leverage Points.
What is a Leverage Point?
The trim tab on a boat rudder is a good example of a Leverage Point. Buckminster Fuller, the futurist best known for coining the term “Spaceship Earth,” explained it this way: Think of the Queen Mary—there’s a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab. It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. It takes almost no effort at all.
Leverage Points are where you get optimal impact from your available resources.
Every successful Execution leader intuitively knows the “People” Leverage Points in their organizations. That is why, when they want to get something done, they reach out to board members, other executives, and informal leaders who can influence the rank-and-file.
What may not be obvious are the Population, Processes and Physical Leverage Points. For example, Interest Groups (a “Population” Leverage Point) could be important. Decision Making (a “Processes” Leverage Point) and Smart Software (a “Physical” Leverage Point) could be ‘force multipliers’ that enable you to get more done with less effort.
The key takeaway here is to Focus Sharply on key Leverage Points in the system you want to change. This is essential to Expedite Execution.
MOVE QUICKLY to Reap Benefits.
A prime example of a leader with the Move Quickly Mindset is Virgin Group’s Sir Richard Branson. You are probably familiar with the Virgin brand from its music megastores and airlines.
What you may not know is how rapidly Virgin has launched one new business after another. “Often the window of opportunity is very small,” explains Branson. “So speed is of the essence.”
EXPEDITE EXECUTION: Time is NOT on your side.
In the New Normal, moving slowly can have many negative consequences. Here are my top three:
- Planning assumptions become obsolete. What’s true today may not be true tomorrow. There are many factors that can make planning assumptions obsolete: sudden shifts in the global and national economies, market changes, extreme weather events, breakthrough innovations, supply-chain disruptions, to name a few. So, no matter how theoretically perfect your plan was when you created it, as the timeline lengthens, its value depreciates because the environment changes. You end up with a perfect plan for a world that no longer exists.
- Unanticipated adversity arrives. Remember the inevitability of Murphy’s Law, which states that “anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Just give it enough time. For example, when a new product is first launched into the marketplace there may be no significant competition. But when competitors see your new product, they react and suddenly you are facing unanticipated competitive threats.
- Advocates of the status quo benefit. What happens when any kind of change plan is announced or even rumored? The advocates of the status quo mobilize to resist the change—regardless of its merits. Consciously and unconsciously, they find ways to block or slow the proposed initiative and otherwise undermine the effort. The longer you take, the more time the status quo advocates have to mobilize.
WASTING TIME in a warp-speed world can be costly. To maximize your probability of success, Move quickly and reap the benefits:
- Key planning assumptions don’t become obsolete.
- There are fewer unanticipated consequences.
- Internal opposition to change is preempted.
- Planning gaps quickly surface and can be corrected.
- Fast wins create a positive psychology for more action.
- Desired results and economic benefits are accelerated.
EXPEDITE EXECUTION: Three Ways to Move Quickly
- Simplify Everything – Clear away anything and everything that isn’t immediately essential. The “Lean Movement” has a simple statement about how to do this. Eliminate “Muda”. Muda (無駄) is a Japanese word meaning “uselessness; wastefulness”. In addition to eliminating Muda, you can also stop doing low-value activities and you can postpone mid- and high-value activities that aren’t immediate priorities. This leaves you with less on your plate. It “clears the air” and allows you to do the important things faster (and better!).
- Create a Sense of Urgency – Given the warp-speed change around us, it is astounding that some people are complacent and self-satisfied with their current situation, without any awareness of the potential defects or impending dangers. The leader’s job is to wake people up, beginning with themselves. Step one is to “walk the talk” of moving quickly. For example, keep meetings short, to the point, and agenda-driven. Lead in a way that creates an atmosphere of urgency. Communicate the negative consequences of delay and the personal costs. Agree on aggressive deadlines for action and hold yourself and others accountable. Bring the outside in; illuminate the realities of external change and how the winners around the world are acting.
- Use a Parallel Approach – There are two basic approaches to action in a group: move serially, taking one step at a time; or, move in parallel, taking many steps simultaneously. One of the benefits of a Parallel Approach (concurrent engineering, market blitz, simultaneous deployment, etc.) is that it allows you to achieve the speed you need to succeed. Case in point: The global brand Pokemon targeted the youth market—specifically, young boys between the ages of 6 and 12. Suddenly the brand was everywhere at once: a widely-distributed movie; a cartoon show that aired 11 times each week on the Warner Brothers network; collectible trading cards; an ad blitz that included television, radio and print ads; multiple websites that offered interactive components like “Pokedex,” which helped kids track the toys they wanted to collect; promotional tie-ins with major organizations like Burger King; and, last but not least, a video game.
EXPEDITE EXECUTION: Instant Replay
The three leadership mindsets we’ve just explored are a proven formula to Expedite Execution.
- Mindset 1 – Think Strategically. Understand your strategic challenges and opportunities and decide dynamically about how to tackle them.
- Mindset 2 – Focus Sharply. Combat the system inertia that slows Execution by focusing your resources on key Leverage Points.
- Mindset 3 – Move Quickly. Clear away anything and everything that isn’t immediately essential and create a sense of urgency.